You would think that the more freedom the designer has, the more their creativity can flourish and they can produce more original, greater ideas. But it is a well-known fact in the design world that the the best designs are produced when designing under constraint.
Consider the beauty of the canal houses of Amsterdam. In the 17th century, plots of land by the canal were allocated in narrow (but deep) portions to maximise the number of houses. Architects worked around this restriction, resulting in the narrow, tall houses of various shapes and colours that we see today. Another architectural example is Florence and Santorini, where building materials were limited to red bricks or stone painted in white and blue respectively, meaning the buildings shared a consistent colour scheme, while varying in shape – the ideal combination for building a beautiful city.
We see the same in other fields. Photography is limited in the realm of time, as you can only take a snapshot. But by using long-exposure or composite images, time can be represented in unique, beautiful ways. The artistic restriction of painting led to Pablo Picasso pioneering cubism, which attempts to represent the many faces of a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional medium. Great literature can be produced from limitation also, such as haikus or flash fiction, such as the infamous six-word story by Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”.
There are many reasons why designing under constraint results in greater works.
Firstly, choice and freedom can be paralysing. When we have absolutely no restricitons, rules or guidance, we have difficulty processing the sheer number of possibilities, because there are too many things to consider. We find it much easier to make a decision and proceed when there are a limited number of choices.
Secondly, constraint often comes in the form of consistency. One of the basic rules of graphic design is to limit your colour palette and font types to avoid clutter and messy design. A consistent theme is much more aesthetically pleasing. This is a core principle of minimalism.
Lastly, limitations encourage creativity as the designer has to come up with a way to overcome the restriction only with the available resources.
A fine example is Gothic churches. It was very difficult putting in large windows in church walls as they would cause structural instability. So architects devised flying buttresses to help bear the load. But even then, the technology for building large, transparent glass windows had not been developed. So instead, they pieced together small, coloured glass pieces to make stained glass windows, introducing light in to the church while telling stories from the Bible.
Ironically, limits and restrictions can be the catalyst for something better. Instead of rebelling and fighting against constraint, try adapting and coming up with a creative way to overcome it.
Legend tells the tale of the Gordian Knot, a knot tied so tightly that it seemed impossible to undo it. The Phrygians’ oracle even prophesised that the person who untied the knot would become the ruler of all of Asia Minor. Many tried to loosen the knot, but the knot remained secure for years.
In fourth century BC, Alexander the Great came to the city amidst his business of conquering everything around him. Of course, he could not pass the challenge by, so he too attempted to unravel the Gordian Knot. But alas, not even the great Alexander could untie it.
He then took a step back and thought to himself that it did not matter how the knot was undone. So he took his sword and sliced the knot in half, much to the shock of his audience. As the oracle prophesised, Alexander ruled the great Macedon Empire, stretching its border past Asia Minor, almost reaching present day China and India.
The story of the Gordian Knot teaches the importance of thinking outside the box. We can tackle a problem again and again without fruition if we try only one method. Just when you start to feel frustrated, take a step back and consider a different approach.
Another lesson is the value of combining two different fields. Instead of using typical knot-untying skills, Alexander chose to use military skills. Many innovations have arisen from borrowing skills and ideas from different fields – known as cross industry innovation.
For example, instead of complicated controller designs for drones, the US Army found using an Xbox 360 controller was far more effective. Computer models simulate the way ants find optimum paths to solve complex mathematical problems such as the Travelling Salesman Problem. The combination of waffles and shoes resulted in the creation of waffle rubber soles to increase traction in running shoes. Many engineering feats borrow ideas from nature, such as the aerodynamic design of planes and structural strength of arches and curves as observed by Gaudi.
A popular factoid (a popular piece of trivia that is actually false) is that the brain has two sides: the rational, logical left brain and the creative, emotional right brain. The human brain does have differences between the two hemispheres, but there is no evidence that there is a clear division of functions between the two. The factoid is meant to be a figurative description of the brain.
Although the factoid is medically wrong, we can still learn something from it. All of us lead very busy lives. We are overworked and have little free time and energy. Our minds are filled with facts and figures, as we have high expectations of being specialists in a given field. Our “rational” mind works in overdrive to plan our careers and schedules, while churning through data at work like a computer. On the other hand, our “creative” mind is neglected.
If you look at a child, they are avatars of creativity. They imagine entire worlds, they think outside the box and they are constantly singing and dancing and drawing. But the older we get, the more we lose this side. We lack the time to play our saxophones that we loved as a teenager. Our cameras gather dust in the bookshelf. Our notebooks yearn to be filled with poems, lyrics and stories. All because we “don’t have time”.
Creative outlets are extremely important as they provide balance. Our rational mind provides logical intelligence, but our creative mind is the source of emotional intelligence. If it is neglected, it atrophies and withers away like any muscle that is not used for a long time. We lose our ability to regulate our emotions, to empathise with one another and we forget how to be happy.
Having a creative outlet gives you a chance to enter flow state and escape the stress and dreariness that comes with modern life. It strengthens your emotional intelligence so that you become more mindful of your own emotions.
In short, it is key to enjoying a happier, more balanced life.
But even if you understand the importance, there is the practical problem of not having enough time. The solution is simple: make time for it. Why is it that we set aside time to go for a run to improve our physical health, yet we cannot spare any time to improve our mental health? Whether it be singing a song in the car during your commute, or doodling a sketch while you drink a cup of coffee, there is always time to indulge your creative side.
The best part of having a creative outlet is that it does not have to be for an audience. It can be for your own enjoyment. Even if you make mistakes because you didn’t have time to practise, no one will judge you. What is important is that you dedicate some amount of time every week so that you can get back into forming a habit. Feel free to make mistakes, to be silly and to just enjoy yourself.
If you feel more confident, you could try carefully sharing your creativity with your friends and loved ones. It may be ignored, but it may strike a chord with someone who shares your passion. You may learn about a deeper side to them and it may strengthen your connection. It might even inspire them to foster their own creative outlets. Furthermore, if someone happens to like your work and gives you positive feedback, it will fill your heart with pride and joy.
Creativity is more than just a hobby; it is a state of mind. If you feel that you lost it somewhere along the way of growing up, don’t worry. Just think back to when you were a little kid drawing with crayons and the pure bliss you experienced when you were “in the zone” with your instrument as a teen. You will realise that the creative spark still glimmers in your heart, waiting to burn brightly again.
In his book Praise of Escaping (“Éloge de la fuite”), physician Henri Laborit suggests the following. When a person faces an ordeal, they face three options. The first is to fight against the ordeal, the second is to do nothing and third is to flee from it.
Firstly, fighting against a challenge is a very natural behaviour. These people are not hurt by the ordeal because they turn the attack into a retaliation. But this attitude has a problem. Continuous attacks and retaliations result in a vicious cycle. An aggressive person ultimately will be stopped by someone who is stronger than them.
The second option involves not doing anything in the sense that you act as if you hadn’t been attacked by pushing down the resentment. This is the most widely accepted attitude in modern society. Scholars call this behavioural inhibition. People with this attitude have the want to punch their opponent in the face, but swallow their anger as they recognise the risk of being retaliated against and entering a vicious cycle. And so, the punch that did not land on the opponent hits themselves instead. This may even show as medical conditions such as stomach ulcers, aches, or other psychosomatic symptoms.
The third way of escaping can be done through different ways. Chemical escape: Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, stimulants, relaxants, sleeping pills. All of these can soften or erase the pain from external attacks. By using these substances to forget everything and knocking oneself out, the ordeal will pass. However, because this kind of escape weakens your sense of reality, people who use this method lose their ability to live in the real world. Geographical escape: Moving from one place to another endlessly. Some people shift their problems by changing jobs, friends, lovers and the places they live in. It doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, but they feel a little better and gain energy from changing the environment they are in. Creative escape: Transforming your anger and pain into film, music, writing, painting, sculpting etc. Some people take the things they cannot dare say in the real world and have characters in an imaginary world say it instead. By doing this, they feel a sense of catharsis. People who like to watch characters in movies and books take revenge against those who have wronged them also fit into this category.
(from The Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber)
Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
“Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is important is invisible to the eye.”
(from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry)
In The Little Prince there is a story that goes like this. At the age of six the protagonist, after seeing a picture of a boa constrictor swallowing an animal in a book, draws “Drawing Number One”:
He showed it to adults and asked if the drawing frightened them. They replied: “Why should any one be frightened by a hat?”
Drawing Number One was not a drawing of a hat, but a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. However, adults could not understand the true meaning of the drawing. So the protagonist drew Drawing Number Two which showed the elephant inside the boa constrictor. The adults advised him to put aside drawings of things like boa constrictors and elephants that could not be seen and instead take interest in geography, history, arithmetic and grammar. That is why he gave up his dream of becoming an artist.
Even after growing up and becoming a pilot, he sometimes showed people Drawing Number One and asked what they saw. But they only saw the hat, never the elephant or the boa constrictor. Unlike when he was young, he did not try to explain the true meaning of the drawing and instead brought up “adult topics” like golf and politics.
Money, status, beauty… Things that can be seen can fool you just as an optical illusion does. Things that are invisible such as the mind, creativity, understanding and love are the only things that can truly bring you satisfaction. So how can we look for things that we cannot see? We can infer that the wind blows from the rustling of leaves. If the leaves are not rustling, it means the wind is not blowing. To find like-minded people, a “password” needs to be used, just as we used leaves to find wind.
The Encyclopaedia of Absolute and Relative Knowledgeis like a “password” to me, just like Drawing Number One was for the protagonist of The Little Prince. It is something that can be used to see if the other person shares my way of thinking and beliefs. Whether it be a book, a picture or a quote, such a password that represents you as a whole can be very useful in finding a true companion. If they ask you why you write such a thing, what the meaning of the picture is or why you respect the quote, then they are not the one you were looking for. The person you are desperately looking for will never ask “why” but instead respond with honest curiosity. Yes, the correct answer to the password is an expression of childlike curiosity. Upon seeing that person’s pure smile, you will know: that that person can decode your password, that they understand you, that they will accept your everything. That person is the one you have been looking for to accompany you for the rest of your life.
The famous surrealist artist Salvador Dalí had a strange habit. When he could not solve a problem or had difficulty coming up with an idea, he chose to nap. However, he did not nap “normally” to say – he used a unique method.
First, find a comfortable sofa or armchair, a spoon and a large plate or pan. Sit in a comfortable way, flip the plate over and place it on the ground, then hold the spoon directly above it with only your thumb and index finger. While thinking about the problem you want to solve, fall asleep.
As soon as you enter REM sleep, all of your muscles will relax and so the spoon will fall onto the plate, making a loud clatter. As soon as you get woken up by this, you will not only feel well rested, but also discover the solution or idea you were looking for.
Dreams are wonderful things. Within a dream, nothing is impossible and the mind unleashes its full potential creativity. Is there a way to harness such power? The short answer is: yes.
Lucid dreams are defined as the state of being aware that you are in a dream. This means that unlike normal dreams, you know that you are dreaming. Although this may sound easy, it is quite hard to enter and stay in a lucid dream. Many people experience a lucid dream a few times in their life, but tend to pass it off as a normal dream or some paranormal event (many “out-of-body” experiences can be explained as lucid dreams).
The major difference between a normal dream and a lucid dream is the ability to control your dream. This concept is explored in detail in the movie Inception, where characters utilise the creative power of dreamspace, tricking the victim that they are in reality to manipulate information out of them. Inception is actually a great example of what a lucid dream is like: the architect can manipulate the dreamspace to her wishes, even going as far as ignoring the laws of physics and conjuring objects out of nothing. This ability is not exclusive to movies – you too can exert this power within your own dreams, every night.
The most important point to remember is that lucid dreams are based on memory. Reason being, if you cannot remember the dream, then it might as well not have happened. Also, you need the ability to distinguish a dream from reality, as otherwise it will pass you by without you realising. There are a few tips and tricks that can help the induction of a lucid dream.
Firstly, keep a dream diary – a record of every dream you have in excruciating detail. This not only trains your ability to remember dreams in detail, but also lets you prepare for when a lucid dream comes. So every morning when you wake up, record whatever you can remember from the night’s dream. Many people complain that they never dream, but this is false – they are merely forgetting it. After keeping a dream diary for at least a couple weeks, you will find that the frequency of dreams increase dramatically, with increasing creativity.
Secondly, look for dream signs. You will notice from your dream diary that certain things appear often in your dreams. This may be a certain person, an impossible object (such as the staircase from Inception), meeting a deceased person or something happening (e.g. falling). A classic example is a clock. In a dream, when you look at a clock (preferably digital) and blink, time suddenly leaps around, such as 3pm suddenly becoming 6pm. Looking for these signs in your surrounding can easily alert you to the fact that you are dreaming.
Lastly, do reality checks as often as possible. These are actions that confirm that you are in reality, or conversely if the check fails, that you are dreaming. Reality checks are represented as totems in Inception, and although the risk of “getting lost in a dream” is close to nothing in a lucid dream, it is an extremely useful tool. Reality checks (RC) are based on the fact that the laws of reality do not function in dreams. For example, a common RC is bending your fingers backwards. In real life, your fingers will only go back so far. In a dream, the fingers can touch the back of your hand: a definitive proof that you are not in reality. Other examples include breathing through a pinched nose, pinching yourself (no sensation in a dream) and… anything creative actually. The general rule is: “habituate what is not your habit” – i.e. make a habit of something that is not usually your habit, so you can do it in a dream as a RC.
After a few weeks practising using the above skills, prepare your mind for a lucid dream. Every night before going to sleep, keep thinking “I will dream” or “I will stay awake in my dream”. Continuous reinforcement directly increases your chance of “waking up” in your dream, and allows you to begin your journey into lucid dreams.
As mentioned above, within a dream, you have almost godly powers as you can manipulate the entire dreamspace to your will. However, there is a catch: you have to control the dreamspace. This may sound absurd, but it will be relevant when you have your first lucid dream. Dreams are like wild mustangs – they will spiral out of control as soon as you try to take control. For instance, a novice lucid dreamer (or, in Greek, oneironaut) will find that as soon as they acknowledge that they are in a dream, they will instantly wake up. This is a form of defence mechanism as the boundary of reality and dream is faded, causing your brain to become confused.
There are methods to help your stay in dreamstate. It has been suggested that when you notice signs of waking up (e.g. the surroundings become blurred and slowly disappear), spinning on the spot can prolong the dreamstate. Rubbing your hands together also helps. The duration you stay in the dream becomes longer as you become more proficient in lucid dreaming.
This is only the first step. The more you manipulate your dream, the more your brain will “reject” your dream-self. Again, this is seen in Inception (it is actually quite an accurate depiction of lucid dreaming). You will find that through practice, you not only lengthen your lucid dream, but also increase the power to manipulate things. In the advanced stage, you will not only be able to completely recreate the world around you, but also achieve flying and the ability to summon people.
A final point to learn about lucid dreaming is that there are two ways into a lucid dream: DILD and WILD.
The first, and the most common, type is Dream-Induced Lucid Dream. This is by far the easiest method. In DILD, you “wake up”, or become self-aware, in a dream and then continue to dream the same dream (except now it is lucid). It is easier to achieve this during a nap or when you go back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night.
The second, and more advanced method, is the Wake-Induced Lucid Dream. WILD is when a lucid dreamer can go straight into a lucid dream from a state of alertness. This lets you enter a lucid dream anytime at will, and can be more powerful than a DILD. However, there is a catch. WILD easily induces sleep paralysis (see Sleep Paralysis) due to the forced induction of REM paralysis. This can be a horrifying experience for the unprepared, especially due to the nightmarish hallucinations it brings. But after practice and the correct mindset, you can easily vanquish this state with willpower, and freely enter a lucid dream. Sleep paralysis should not deter you from attempting lucid dreaming, for it is only a temporary side effect.
Lucid dreaming is one of the most useful skills one can learn. Not only does it let you explore your mind freely, you can go deeper to discover your subconscious (often through imagery), solve complex problems you couldn’t in real life and relieve the stress built up from reality. An interesting feature about dreams is that time is completely relative; this means you will enjoy a lengthy dream much longer than your actual sleep, giving you a better rested sleep. If you are lucky, you may even enjoy the delightful experience of a “dream within a dream” (or go even deeper).
There is a bamboo forest on a desert island. How can you use these?
If you cut a section of bamboo so that one side is open, one side is closed, it becomes a cup.
If you cut a section of bamboo and split it lengthwise, it becomes a dish.
If you cut a section of bamboo and cut a wide hole in the side, it becomes a pot.
If you cut a section of bamboo and fit a large rock on one end, it becomes a hammer.
If you cut a branch of bamboo and craft it, it can be a spoon, fork or chopsticks.
If you take a stick of bamboo and tie a string and hook at the end, it becomes a fishing rod.
If you take a stick of bamboo and sharpen the end, it becomes a spear.
If you take many large bamboo and tie them together, you can make a house, a bed or a raft to escape in.
The most important rule of survival is application.
As an addendum, bamboo is a grass (the largest in the world), not a tree. This is because its stalk has become hardened yet still hollow, making it look like a tree. However, it has segments, shallow roots and dies after flowering (which can take decades) that are features of grass.
Time after time, those who possessed a thought process that transcends the so-called “box” and revolutionary creativity were both respected and shunned. A genius is someone who has the ability to stir the world yet ignored by the general population. Because of that reason, it is often the case that people do not recognise the true value of a genius and miss out on the golden chance of borrowing his or her abilities. Also, many geniuses cannot shine and be accepted, living a lonely life; this will be the case until someone else who understands their ways and accepts it for what it is.
Like this, human society tends to have its pearls buried in the mud, and superficially appears only as putrid dung most of the time.